Africa’s digital transformation hinges on strategic partnerships, say panellists at the e-Governance Conference
By Blessing Ife Oyetunde
Africa’s digital transformation has become increasingly central to the region’s sustainable development goals. Now, strategic partnerships will be critical in accelerating digital development, said panellists at Estonia’s e-Governance Conference.
Koffi Djossou, Aminah Zavedde, Emma Theofelus, and Cecilia Maundu during the panel. Image: e-Governance Conference
The World Bank’s 2022 GovTech Maturity Index (GTMI) Update highlights that African countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, and Mauritius have joined the “Very High Maturity” GovTech leaders group, alongside digi-forerunners like Estonia, Singapore, and Japan.
As governments across Africa embrace the power of technology to shape their societies, the question of how to foster inclusive and collaborative e-government that engages citizens and communities has become paramount.
Panellists representing various African countries and African supranational entities highlighted that collaboration and inclusivity will be the keys to unlocking Africa’s potential for digital transformation during the Collaborative road to innovation: Case studies from Africa panel at the e-Governance Conference 2023 held in Tallinn, Estonia.
Namibia embraces collaboration to develop digital policies
Strategic collaborations have marked Namibia’s journey towards developing comprehensive digital policies, according to Emma Theofelus, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Namibia. Namibia has engaged with intergovernmental organisations and regional blocks, and leveraged existing protocols and treaties to benchmark its policies.
“Digital policies don’t exist in a vacuum; they need to be benchmarked against our existing laws and constitution. At the same time, collaboration allows us to draw upon regional and international expertise while ensuring our laws and policies reflect our own position,” she said.
Theofelus stressed the need for digital policies to align with the country’s national development roadmap while incorporating inputs from local stakeholders such as civil society and the private sector.
Namibia has not only taken a collaborative approach towards policy development but also digital infrastructure development. An example is the Namibian government’s interoperability solution Nam-X which Estonian IT company Cybernetica implemented in cooperation with the e-Governance Academy, Estonia.
Nam-X is a secure data exchange and interoperability solution that facilitates seamless interaction between different government agencies and systems, as well as between the private sector and civil society in Namibia. It aims to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of government services by streamlining data sharing and reducing duplication of effort.
Uganda develops digital policies with a discerning eye
Though it is important to involve all stakeholders (including civil society, the private sector, academia, and development partners) when developing digital policy, it is crucial to weigh stakeholder priorities against national needs, shared Aminah Zavedde, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Uganda.
“We have become intentional about saying [to international development partners], these are our needs; don’t feed us. Bring your expertise and also align your intentions with our needs and development roadmap,” she said.
Zavedde further shared Uganda’s proactive approach to stakeholder engagement through its programme-based planning for digital transformation.
She revealed that the Ministry of ICT leads a governance structure involving ministries, private sector representatives, academia, civil society, and development partners. This collaborative platform enables regular discussions on digital transformation priorities, challenges, and progress.
Through this engagement approach, Uganda identifies key focus areas, allocates resources efficiently, and tracks the implementation of digital initiatives. She also noted that the involvement of stakeholders from various sectors ensures that policies and programmes are comprehensive and address the population’s diverse needs.
Additionally, the regular dialogue fosters a sense of ownership and accountability among stakeholders, leading to increased commitment and effective implementation of digital transformation initiatives.
Sustainable partnerships towards inclusive digital development
Collaboration with the private sector allows for a more accountable and structured approach, while the engagement of the social sector ensures citizens can benefit from digital solutions, said Koffi Djossou, Senior Programme Manager, Western African Development Bank, Togo.
He shed light on the role of The West African Development Bank in promoting public-private-social partnerships for inclusive digital development. The bank, serving eight African countries, recognises the transformative power of digitalisation for socio-economic growth.
E-government leaders are also working with African countries to drive digital transformation. As part of Estonia’s 10 year strategy to support Africa’s development, they will be supporting other countries in areas such as digital transformation, e-governance, and innovation, shared Liina Link, Desk Officer at the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
She shared that the Estonian Centre for International Development (ESTDEV) will support four key partners, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, and Botswana in these areas to drive sustainable development.
Similarly, the African Union-European Union (AU-EU) D4D Hub will foster e-government collaboration between EU member states and African governments to implement digital roadmaps, shared Helena Lepp, Digitalisation Expert. The hub will promote knowledge exchange and capacity building between states.
But while development agencies and trusted partners can support success, it is crucial that African leaders strategically drive initiatives and align them with a larger goal, commented Maksim Ovtšinnikov, Head of Data Exchange Technologies at Cybernetica.
He highlighted that he had particularly noticed this approach in countries like Benin. Not surprisingly, the nation was one of the sixteen good-practice cases related to GovTech focus areas selected by GTMI 2022.
Aside from tasking different government agencies with specific goals towards achieving its digital government transformation strategy, Benin adopted the “whole-of-government” approach, which is now institutionalised.
The country’s continued partnership with Cybernetica on the data exchange platform UXP and the national citizen platform was announced earlier this month.